Discovering life’s simple pleasures

Love the idea of a quiet life in beautiful countryside? Amy Sparkes hears from three women who have embraced life in the country

We left the city behind

Cath, 40, her husband, John, and their children aged five and three, live in a 15th century Grade 2* Devon longhouse, with beams, nooks and even a rumoured hidden staircase, still waiting to be discovered! Situated in the southern Exmoor foothills on a 100-acre farm, the nearest shop is five miles away. The decision to move from London back to Cath’s family home came unexpectedly.                 
“I was born and brought up here until I left for university.  Many years later, John and I were renting a flat in London. When our baby was eight months old, both my elderly parents became very ill and I was exhausted from constantly travelling between London and Devon. My mother needed to move somewhere easier to manage and we all agreed that the only choice was to sell up. Then one day, John, a city man, said: ‘I don’t feel it’s right to sell the farmhouse. Each time I come down I love it more. We could live here and renovate it.  It would be challenging, but fun’.

“I was drawn by the relief of being nearer to my parents and also the idea of bringing up my children here. They would have freedom, and grow up within the sheltered environment of a small community – one that I had grown up in myself.”

Moving from the city was a cultural shock at first; gone were the endless activities on Cath’s doorstep. “Here, I couldn’t just push the pram down to the shops, library, park or friend’s house, as there is only mud and narrow lanes! But once I made friends, let the children enjoy themselves creatively at home, and realised that our old friends would still visit, I knew it would be fine.

“Now I love the gentle rhythms and ever-changing beauty of the countryside. With young children, we constantly discover more about the world around us, watching the frogspawn grow into tadpoles, delighting in discovering fresh eggs from our chickens or wondering when the swallows will arrive and nest in our porch.”

However, Cath has found there are drawbacks. “It means long days for John when he works in London. He leaves at 6.30am, returns at 11pm, and often has to stay away. The winters can be tough - in January we were snowed in for eight days.  In autumn we had a plague of rats in the yard and some came into the house! We drive 15 miles for church, although we do have strong connections with the village church and take part when we can. But the lack of affordable housing for young families is the biggest issue for me. In our parish there’s a real shortage of babies and young children, which will endanger the future of the village school and the health of the community.”

But despite these issues, Cath doesn’t regret moving back. “I love feeling involved in the community, having family nearby and being rooted in my own history. Now I send my boy on the bus to the village school just as I was sent when I was a little girl.”

Cath’s tips for moving from a city
•    Visit in winter as well as summer before deciding to move.
•    Do you mind driving? Getting anywhere requires a concerted effort.
•    Accept local people for who they are - you can’t choose your community as you can in a town. Relationships take longer to build but are worthwhile.

We retired to the country

Elizabeth, 68, lives in a small village in the heart of Devon. She and her husband, Derek, decided to move near Exeter when they retired six years ago.

“As church is important to us, we made enquiries of the diocese first and discovered a link was being set up with Kenya. Derek has a passion for Africa and had been very involved with Tanzania in our previous church. It seemed a positive sign and he was approached to be involved with the Kenyan link. We decided to find a church first, somewhere within 15 miles of Exeter, and then look for a house. The very first church we visited was welcoming, vibrant and had a heart for mission. Near the M5, it was in a good position for us, so we began looking for a home.”

Elizabeth and Derek soon found an ideal house, situated near a National Trust property and with beautiful views of fields and hills. As the facilities in the village are limited, Elizabeth frequently travels into the nearest town. “The village shop has closed, but there are organised social events which bring the community together. The swimming pool, hospital, supermarkets and church are about a mile away, but the bus passes every two hours and from this town, a regular service operates to Exeter. At the moment, all of this is within walking distance or we drive.”

Elizabeth is very happy with her lifestyle and the area in which she lives. “We are blessed to be fit enough to explore the wonderful countryside on our doorstep and we enjoy our garden and have space to grow our own vegetables. We are also very involved in church life and our spiritual lives are cared for and supported by the church family.”

She believes social interaction with others is very important and has helped in their relocation to a rural area. “We were aware that as we had no personal contacts with anyone in the area, it would be very easy to only mix with Christians around us. We became involved with U3A (University of the Third Age), and joined different interest groups such as French, skittles, croquet and natural history. Now our friendships have broadened so that we enjoy a varied and interesting life here.

“I find change very daunting and was very anxious six years ago when I felt that we needed to relocate. But praying about each step and being willing to try new things has resulted in a very contented, busy life. Like the plants we brought down with us, we have put down roots, feel established and are enjoying the climate.”

Elizabeth’s tips for retiring to the country
•    To avoid feeling isolated, make sure there are opportunities to mix socially with people who have similar interests
•    Look for ways that you can be actively involved in the community
•    Consider location and facilities of a new home and think about your future life style

We love our eco-friendly life

Claire, 37, lives with her husband, Andrew, and two boys, aged nine and seven. They run a smallholding with woods, paddock, guinea fowl, hens and pigs. They aim to be as self-sufficient as possible, with minimum impact on the environment.

“Our move to this neglected house almost two years ago was unexpected and a response to family commitments. Straight away we gave the house and land to God along with plans, renovations and uses for it. This gave us a real sense of freedom.”

Psalm 24:1, “The Earth is the Lord’s and everything in it”, is a special verse to Claire and Andrew, who appreciate the importance of caring for God’s creation. They have found ways to utilise their land in an environmentally-friendly way.

“We have two and half acres of mature woodland which is a sustainable fuel resource. The old heating and hot water system was rusty, inefficient and non-sustainable, so we recycled it. We fitted a new carbon-neutral, wood-burning Rayburn, which provides hot water, heating, and a cooker, although this does mean lots of chopping and carrying wood to the house. Anyone who goes outside comes in with an armful!”

The land also includes an overgrown acre paddock and vegetable plot. With their three pigs helpfully eating the brambles, Claire is clearing the areas to make way for an orchard and grass, which will increase the plot’s sustainability.

Although her lifestyle is far from easy, Claire appreciates the benefits. “Consuming meat, vegetables and eggs that only travel 50 yards to the door brings us delight. Involving the whole family is great and no-one is too young or old to plant seeds or feed animals. Living this way is purposeful and meaningful, providing fitness, fresh air and freedom, but best of all it’s easy to feel close to God when in his creation.”
Claire and Andrew prayed specifically for their home and land to be a place of hope and healing. They facilitate this, closely linked with church and Claire’s experience as an occupational therapist, by running groups and offering counselling and prayer.

“People seem to really love being here, and for us this is the most rewarding part,” says Claire.

“Having grown up in a rural community, I feel it’s important to understand and really love your neighbours. I’ve prayed for the courage to be Jesus to them. Life is not all about how many eggs the hen has laid or how the pigs escaped again. It may be fun and character building, but at the end of the day, our relationships and availability are what we’re accountable for.”
Claire’s tips for self-sufficiency
•    Your whole family needs to be on board. The commitment needed for this way of life is not for everyone
•    Expect to drop everything to respond to seasons and emergencies
•    Look creatively at all the resources available to you